Sunday, 23 August 2015

Joann Sfar clarifies involvement and status of Corto Maltese project with Christophe Blain



I've been watching these Christophe Blain Corto Maltese pages make the rounds for the last couple of weeks, without having the time to stop and read what the story regarding them was. I knew if Blain was actually working on Corto Maltese it would be much bigger news, so I imagined these to be the product of an homage or some fan-art that had surfaced. However, it appears Blain and Joann Sfar were tapped by publishers Casterman to come up with a proposal for a new Corto Maltese story, of which these pages are a result. You may remember last year I covered Casterman's announcement that they would be publishing a new Corto Maltese book, written by Blacksad scribe Juan Diaz Canales and illustrated by Spanish artist Ruben Pellejero. It seems Blain and Sfar were approached around the same time to also come up with a test pitch of their vision of  Hugo Pratt's enduring sailor-adventurer. Set in South Africa in 1915, it features a dapper young Gandhi in his lawyer days, defending Corto as he sits in the dock: The British crown has benefited greatly from the smugglers, until recently... Why accuse my client of having exercised the profession for which you have paid so long...' At which point, a man wearing a gas mask breaks into the court-room, detonates a bomb, and amidst the confusion, grabs Corto and helps him to escape. Once they're out on the street to safety, the masked individual reveals his identity: it's Rasputin.

Sfar took to his Facebook page on August 10th to clarify speculation surrounding the alleged 'abandonment' of the project, and his statement is worth reading in full. He states that unbeknownst to him and Blain, Pratt's heirs had already hired Canales and Pellejero for a new Corto book - it's unclear whether Casterman were aware of this but it's difficult to imagine that the publisher wouldn't be involved. Sfar writes that he took inspiration from Pratt saying that if ever somebody were to continue Corto's adventures after him he hoped that they would stamp their own individuality on the character and world, much as Frank Miller did with Batman. From the brief look and premise of these pages, it would appear this is what Blain and Sfar were setting out to do. Instead Casterman and the Pratt estate opted not to deviate too far from the direction of the original property, choosing the safer option of sticking with stories that offer more in the same vein. Sfar goes on to wish Canales and Pellejero luck, and emphasises that 'There was never any question of the quality of the respective projects, nor of projects put in competition,' and says that Catserman even offered to publish his and Blain's book as a parallel work, but that he refused the deal as he deemed it insulting to the two teams of authors and to Corto Maltese.

I cannot come up with enough superlatives to bestow on Christophe Blain's work, and IDW's rejuvenated, large-format, black and white editions of Corto Maltese have made me a new fan of the dashingly cool sailor, too, so this turn of events is of significant interest to me (I'm trying to be professional here; my interior monologue is more along the lines of 'Christophe Blain!! We could have had Christophe freaking Blain doing a Corto Maltese book!!'). What I find most curious is the apparent disparity in direction not only between the two projects, which is fair enough, but in terms of creative teams. As far as pedigree and name-recognition goes, both Sfar and Blain are on a different level to Canales and Pellejero, which would be a big factor in relaunching/producing new comics for something as widely popular and acclaimed as Corto Maltese. The assumption in getting Blain and Sfar on board for a pitch would be because you know and like what they do, and thus have some idea of what they'd propose as singular artists. While it's not unheard of to get a few people to put together pitches, the ensuing situation seems confused in the least. Poor editorial practice, or a mix-up in communication- who's to know. As it stands currently, it's another one of those intriguing little pieces of trivia to relegate into the annals of 'what could have been.'

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Sophia Foster-Dimino, Jillian Tamaki, Ethan Rilly lead 2015 Ignatz award nominations

Beauty by Kerascoet and Hubert

The Small Press Expo (SPX) announced the full list of nominees for the 2015 Ignatz Awards last week; with an aim to celebrate outstanding achievements in independent and alternative comics and cartooning, the awards are named after George Herriman’s brick-wielding mouse from his Krazy Kat comic strip, recognising exceptional work within the medium. Nominees are determined by a panel of cartoonists, this year comprised of  Lamar Abrams, Cara Bean, Robyn Chapman, Sophie Goldstein and Corrine Mucha, with votes cast by all SPX attendees during the festival to decide the eventual winners. 

This year's slate again sees a wide range of books and authors recognised- there's quite a bit of self-published work nominated, which is always pleasing to see. Looking at the standard and quality of work across the board, -and not to single out the Ignatz awards specifically here- it reiterates how constraining the labels of 'independent' and 'alternative' within comics have become. I'm particularly pleased to see Swedish publishers Peow! Studio receive some acknowledgement for their excellent work, with nods for Jane Mai's Soft, Disa Wallander's The Nature of Nature, and Patrick Crotty's Devil's Slice of Life, in addition to the nominations for Sophia Foster-Dimino's superb comics; the majority of Foster-Dimino's work is online or digital, and there's always a worry that that can make it easier for it to be overlooked. A mention, too, for Ryan Sands who does a quietly brilliant job in curating and publishing artists for the high-quality Frontier series- I think (hope) that that category will see Frontier and Sex Fantasy duke it out. 

With regard to Sophie Goldstein being both a juror and nominee, SPX Ignatz coordinator Eden Miller clarified the selection and submission process for the Washington Post, 'The Ignatz jurors’ identities are secret from the public and from each other. While jurors cannot nominate their own work, there is no prohibition on a juror’s work being nominated by his or her fellow jurors. Sophie Goldstein’s fellow jurors nominated ‘The Oven’ without knowing she was also serving as a juror.' The winners will be presented Saturday, Sept. 19, at SPX. Congratulations to all nominated. Below you can find a full list of nominees:

Outstanding Artist
Emily Carroll for Through the Woods
Ed Luce for Wuvable Oaf
Roman Muradov for (In a Sense) Lost and Found
Jillian Tamaki for SuperMutant Magic Academy
Noah Van Sciver for Saint Cole

Outstanding Anthology or Collection
Drawn and Quarterly: 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels, edited by Tom Devlin, Chris Oliveros, Peggy Burns, Tracy Hurren and Julia Pohl-Miranda
An Entity Observes All Things, by Box Brown
How to Be Happy, by Eleanor Davis
Pope Hats #4, by Ethan Rilly
SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki

Outstanding Graphic Novel
Beauty by Kerasco√ęt and Hubert
The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
Rav by Mickey Zacchilli
Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver
Wendy by Walter Scott

Outstanding Story
Doctors by Dash Shaw
Me As a Baby by Michael DeForge (from Lose #6)
Nature Lessons by Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger (from The Late Child and Other Animals)
Sex Coven by Jillian Tamaki
Weeping Flower, Grows in Darkness, by Kris Mukai

Promising New Talent
M. Dean for K.M. & R.P. & MCMLXXI (1971)
Sophia Foster-Dimino- for Sphincter, Sex Fantasy
Dakota McFadzean for Don’t Get Eaten by Anything
Jane Mai for Soft
Gina Wynbrandt for Big Pussy

Outstanding Series
Dumb by Georgia Webber
Frontier edited by Ryan Sands
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Pope Hats by Ethan Rilly
Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Outstanding Comic
Borb by Jason Little
The Nature of Nature by Disa Wallander
The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
Pope Hats 4 by Ethan Rilly
Weeping Flower Grows in Darkness, by Kris Mukai

Outstanding Minicomic
Devil’s Slice of Life by Patrick Crotty
Epoxy 5 by John Pham
King Cat #75 by John Porcellino
Sex Fantasy #4 by Sophia Foster-Dimino
Whalen: A Reckoning by Audry

Outstanding Online Comic
The Bloody Footprint by Lilli Carre
Carriers by Lauren Weinstein
Mom Body by Rebecca Roher
O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti
Witchy by Ariel Ries

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Pick of the pre-orders: Yumi Sakugawa's 'Ikebana,' and 'The Gleaming Corridor' from Ben Sears

A heads up about two comics that are now available for pre-order, both of which I've been looking forward to in different ways. I'm not sure why, but I find greater satisfaction in high-quality work when it's self-published or from small publishing imprints; there was a period earlier in the year where I read Frontier #7, Weeping Flower, Grows In Darkness, Soft, and Lovers Only all in a cluster that was immensely rewarding for me- it felt like a concentrated moment of happening. I'm hopeful that these two upcoming books from Yumi Sakugawa and Ben Sears, respectively, will be at a similar level. For now, here's a little more information on each, along with some interior pages (these should enlargen to readable size if you click on them).


I'm an affirmed fan of Yumi Sakugawa's work (Never Forget, I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You); this new book with Retrofit was announced last July as part of their 2015 slate, and will debut at SPX next month. Described as a powerful exploration of a piece of performance art, Ikebana follows Cassie Hamasaki as she embodies a Japanese flower arrangement, and then, trailing her confused art class, silently walks into the city, through a public utterly unaware of what she is doing. At 40 pages long, I'm really excited for this, not only because I'd be interested in anything Sakugawa does, but also because the subject matter and themes here look right up my street; I have a strange fascination with performance art, and its penchant to be especially pretentious and fascinating, and Ikebana looks both funny and ponderous in its examination of art and identity. You can pre-order it here.


I first came across Ben Sears work in 2014, via Studygroup Comics, where he was serialising his charmingly low-key boy-and-a-robot fantasy/sci-fi comic, Double + -which you can read about here. From what I recall, Sears began a second installment of the story in January on the Studygroup website, but there's been nothing more of it since. In the meantime, following his Tumblr as he posts illustration and commissions has been a pleasure- there's a special satisfaction in seeing artists visibly develop and go from strength to strength. So I'm happy to have a new work from him in the form of The Gleaming Corridor, a 44-page silent, black and white adventure. From the preview pages, it looks like it again features mysterious ruined environments and the chance of adventure within.  You can pre-order it here. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

James Stokoe's 'Silver Surfer vs Galactus' in Battleworld #4: you can never be free of yourself


Strange and far-reaching are the places fandom can take you: in this case, Marvel's Secret Wars: Battleworld #4. As an avid enthusiast of James Stokoe's work, I've been looking forward to the release of this comic since I learnt he'd be doing a 10-page Silver Surfer story for it (and also a variant cover). You may recall Stokoe last year produced the most memorable of Marvel's 100th anniversary special issues with a future-set Avengers story. His contribution here is even more contracted, sharing space with another, separate Silver Surfer story by Peter David and Daniel Valadez. It can be precarious when singular talent goes to work for Marvel or DC, with results often being extremely diluted to the point of waste. Regardless of what you think of corporate comics, Stokoe is an excellent fit for them, due largely to his approach and understanding of properties. He is able to strike a balance wherein he create comics infused with his own particular sensibilities and interpretations whilst retaining the essence of what makes characters and world special. His art demands and hogs the attention, which can mean his capabilities as a writer often go overlooked, but he is without doubt the complete package where superlative comics-making is concerned.

The premise of Battleworld, to those of us uninitiated, is explained on the opening title/credits page via some very excited sentences declaring: 'The multiverse was destroyed! The heroes of Earth-616 and Earth-1610 were powerless to save it! Now all that remains is...Battleworld! A massive patchwork planet composed of fragments of worlds that no longer exist...Each region is a domain unto itself! Within these domains exist multiple versions of the heroes and villains you know, each familiar yet completely different!' This means little to me, as someone who reads very few serialised comics, other than imparting that these stories essentially function as stand-alones and are relatively easily accessible. Sort of Else-worldy, and the opportunity to have some fun.

To Egyptia, then, where the Silver Surfer cuts through the hot, muggy air and past palm trees chased by a humongous crocodile-like beast, the gloriously named Fin Fang Foom, eater-of-a-thousand (in previous incarnations a shape-shifting alien dragon being), who is intent on sampling this new strange prey that has wandered into his domain. It's not a chance encounter, but a deliberate strategy from the Surfer who, with the help of Juggernaut, is looking to capture and kill the croc. In this world, Norrin Radd has only just begin serving as the herald of Galactus, devourer of worlds, a bargain struck in order to save his homeland, the temple city of Zenn-La, from being consumed. Galactus has arrived at Zenn-La starving and desperate, dredging up some energy to imbue Norrin Radd with the power cosmic.  It is for Galactus the newly-minted Surfer now searches and hunts for monsters so that he may feed his master, to sate and restore him. But the Surfer is without the benefit of experience, of years of journeys and interactions between him and Galactus, so he fails to notice the Galactus he leaves behind is one whose hunger has left him on the precipice of madness; unstable, and unpredictable...


It's easy to get lost in the sunning intricacy of Stokoe's art, and forget just how good a writer he can be; his comics are anchored by an emotional crux which allows them to function successfully as engaging, involving narratives. Stokoe begins the comic using what is probably the closest to a traditionally hued colour palette he's ever employed, and it looks beautiful: at once clear, sharp, and bright. The green and pink of Fin Fang Foom against a light yellow-white backdrop, especially, make for a visually satisfying pop. That opening section with the Surfer and Juggernaut taking down Fin Fang Foom is joyous, cool, and comedic; it is a warm, unlikely partnership of elegant finesse and blunt force. There's a great panel where Juggernaut's club meets the croc's snout, the former giving it all the welly he can muster, suspending him in the air at a right angle from sheer force: arms down, legs up, looking for all the world like a giant, round baby. As it progresses, the story turns to other, more horrific cadences, and saturation increases, those neon gradients begin to seep in, reflecting the shifting tone and atmosphere.

Pleasure is to be had in all the little details that help to build the story, to make the reader invested, to look and care: for example, Fin Fang Foom, the Surfer, and Juggernaut are given additional costume and design characteristics. The croc has spiky jewelled arm bracelets, a wooden, beaded and feathered necklace, and a pink and purple chequered cloth and leaf woven head-dress. Perhaps not big things, but these work to imbue personality, elevating Fin Fang Foom's import beyond being just an exceptionally large crocodile. For his part, Surfer's cloaked robes appear to be made from a light hessian type material that covers his head, and he, too, is wearing gem-encrusted cuffs at his wrists, upper arms, and ankles, lending him a slightly different yet magisterial, almost royal look. Remember, the Surfer doesn't feel the elements, so these adornments are ones he's selected to wear for how they make him look and feel; another small facet that's more suggestive of Norrin Radd's mentality. Juggernaut, befittingly, remains in his Juggernaut costume with one change: he has a modified leather warrior skirt, and a resplendent, golden lionskin head worn over his helmet. Stokoe's textures ground his work, giving it weight and depth, whether it's reptilian hide, palm tree trunks, muscle definition, or rocks on the ground. As fun and exuberant as it is, there's meat to it.



What I like best about this story, however, is how well it complements Stokoe's previous Silver Surfer short comic, a story produced for Strange Tales (another alternate possibilities canvas); with both comics reinforcing the notion of the Surfer's fate being inextricably bound to Galactus; everything coming back to the point of his choice and sacrifice. In the Strange Tales short, the Surfer is invited to play a final game of cards with a group of beings who defiantly continue to drink and be merry as their world literally crumbles around them. The Surfer has performed his duty, Galactus is feeding, and soon they will all be dead. But this is their home: they have no way -or intention- of leaving, and so they face death together, unbowed, in the place they love. 'May you never find a place to call home,' says one of the aliens to the Surfer as the last rocks fall.

The poignancy of this is particularly heavy, because the Surfer, of course, has a home; a home to which he can never return. A home and people that live and thrive, that he loved so much he sacrificed himself to an unending life of terrible servitude in order for them to continue to exist. In this Battleworld iteration, the Surfer gets the better of Galactus and is set free, yet loses everything he cared and gave for. A third, unexplored option would be to simply do nothing when Galactus comes to feed: to die together with his home and people, and still, still he would lose. We like to think that given the opportunity to 'do-over,' we would make different choices, better choices, but how accurate is that? Ultimately, fundamentally, you would still be you. Would things really turn out differently or would a new set of problems present themselves? Or would you end up at the same destination via a previously untravelled road? It is not in the Surfer's nature to stand by and do nothing; he is who he is and that remains unchanged, therefore he makes the same choice over and over. This is what some people call fate. And that, in the end, is the Surfer's tragedy: regardless of the path he selects, despite the choice he makes, he always loses. He can never truly be free.

Zac Gorman discusses his new, real-time robot comic, 'A Thousand Days'


Here's something new and interesting that should be on your radar: Zac Gorman has started a comics project that's nabbed my attention. A space-set, sci-fi story, Gorman began publishing A Thousand Days late last month on a dedicated Tumblr, with only the following intriguing information; 'Hello. This is a webcomic by Zac Gorman. The comic takes place in real time over the course of one thousand days. It began on 07.27.15 and will end on 04.22.18. The robot dies in the end.' Like countless others, I'm a fan of Gorman's comics and art -his Magical Game Time collection is a treasured possession, even with my cursory familiarity with gaming, as is Costume Quest- and so I got in touch with him to discuss his latest comic in a bit more detail, and the negotiability of the robot's fate.

You've started a new web-comic; what can you tell us about it?
The new comic is an experimental thing. Really it's just a way for me to blow off creative steam in the little glimpses of time I have in between projects. The story's about a robot in trapped in a spaceship all alone and slowly dying. I guess more specifically it's about what it does with that time it has left as it's waiting for everything to be over. About that and about how it copes with loneliness maybe. I honestly don't really know for sure yet. I hope that I'll figure out what it's really about as I go. It's the closest thing to an autobio comic that I feel comfortable doing.

A few people were confused about the comic playing out in real time, which means that the time in the comic reflects real life time. 1000 days, brings us to just under 3 years- how much of it do you have planned out? Is all the story there, do you have a cache of updates as a buffer, and then work on more?
The comic plays out in real time for a couple reasons. Primarily this is because I want everyone to know that it's going to end. Definitively end. I wanted to make the death of the main character feel real. Even if I never draw another strip, it still dies. It's still living its life for the next 900 some days even if I don't draw it. When I do get a chance to draw one, it'll just pick up with whatever the character happens to be doing at that time. Secondly, I'm doing it in real time because I don't want to be stuck to a firm schedule. I have very little free time currently but when I do, I thought it'd be nice to have something just to jump back into, but also something that didn't feel stagnant. Nobody wants to continue a story that they haven't touched in a month, but if that story was evolving without you, maybe there's something interesting there. Maybe not. We'll see, I guess.

How challenging has that been? Moving things forward whilst insinuating a lot to what has happened in the comics world that readers don't necessarily get to see?
So far, I'm only a few strips in, so it's been easy! Honestly, it would be really challenging if the comic had a lot of plot or characters, but it's really just the one robot—at least for now—in the one environment.

With the comic taking place in real time, how much thought do you give as to when to update, in terms of maintaining interest and engagement, and also pacing issues?
It's really just a thing that I'm going to update whenever I have the time. As far as those other things are concerned, this is kinda a selfish project, except the part where I'm giving it away for free online, I suppose. This isn't what you're supposed to say, I don't think, but I'm really doing this project for myself. If other people enjoy it, that's great but I'm definitely not doing it with a commercial mindset. I work so much for other people. This is something you should probably only follow if you're really patient.

Will we meet any other characters, can you give us a tiny hint at what may be coming up?
It's really not a plot driven story, so it's hard to give anything away. If I had a goal for the project it's just to really try to endear this character to readers as much as humanly possible. It's like real life, the more people that care when you die probably means you did something right.

Zac, I have to ask- is it writ in stone that the robot must die in the end? He's so cute.
The robot has to die, unfortunately. Fictional characters don't have the same problems as people. They don't age, they don't die, they aren't typically aware of their mortality and even if they are, every time you pick up the book, it's like they're living again (and possibly dying again) for the first time. That's especially true for cartoons. But this robot for whatever reason is stuck in actual time. After it dies you can revisit the comic, but it's more like looking at photographs of a deceased loved one.

I swear I'm not usually this depressing!

Asking for myself (because I loved what there was of it), but also lots of other people who I know are interested, what happened to Escape From Burgertown? Do you have any plans to return to it at some point?
I still like Escape from Burgertown. I've toyed with the idea of doing it as a comic series. Honestly, I've always thought the best media for it would be a traditional pencil and paper RPG for whatever reason. That's how it started its life in my head and I've never gotten over it. It'd probably make a cool video game too. My problem right now is that I have too many projects and not enough time. No matter how hard I work there are only so many hours in a day.

You can follow A Thousand Days here, and Zac's main Tumblr here.


Friday, 7 August 2015

Emily Carroll is embroiled in witchy going ons in 'Baba Yaga's Asssitant'


I like to consider myself pretty on top of things where notable comic book releases are concerned, and while I was aware Emily Carroll was working on illustrating a new book, the release of it has come around very quickly! So I'm sharing some images and details of it now (where otherwise it would have placed on August's 'With pound in hand' feature), because it looks rather good, especially if you're looking for comics for older children. Written by Marika McCoola, Baba Yaga's Assistant is a 136-page hardback about Masha, a young girl who deliberately ventures into the very eerie, supposedly haunted woods in pursuit of adventure, only to meet one of the most fearsome witches of all: Baba Yaga! This sounds like perfect subject matter for queen-of-scares Carroll to bring to life, and as you can see from the pages below, although more traditionally formatted than Carroll's own book, Through The Woods, she's still eliciting that creepy vibe; the pooling black on the last image is especially evocative. So while this may be aimed at younger audiences, a new Emily Carroll book is simply too good to pass up -and hey, maybe this will be at just the right scare level for a frighty-cat like me! Baba Yaga is also one of my favourite folk-loric characters, thanks to Hellboy and Tin Can Forest's gorgeous Baba Yaga and the Wolf, to name a few, so I'm extra keen to get my hands on a copy of this. Here's a little more on the plot from publishers Candlewick:

'Most children think twice before braving a haunted wood filled with terrifying beasties to match wits with a witch, but not Masha. Her beloved grandma taught her many things: that stories are useful, that magic is fickle, that nothing is too difficult or too dirty to clean. The fearsome witch of folklore needs an assistant, and Masha needs an adventure. She may be clever enough to enter Baba Yaga’s house-on-chicken-legs, but within its walls, deceit is the rule. To earn her place, Masha must pass a series of tests, outfox a territorial bear, and make dinner for her host. No easy task, with children on the menu! Spooky and poignant, Marika McCoola’s stunning debut—with richly layered art by acclaimed graphic artist Emily Carroll—is a storytelling feat and a visual feast.' 





Coming from Inio Asano in 2016: 'A Girl on the Shore' and 'Goodnight Punpun' in English

2016 is shaping up to be a year of riches for English-language fans of Inio Asano. With Vertical previously announcing they will be publishing an omnibus edition of A Girl on the Shore ('Umibe no Onna no Ko') early in the year, Viz have now followed that with their own licensing news: they'll begin publishing volumes of Asano's Goodnight Punpun ('Oyasumi Punpun') series in spring, with books being released on a quarterly schedule. There are three existing Asano titles available in English: Viz put out 2-book anthology What A Wonderful World! in 2009, followed by Solanin in 2011, which found a young couple in their 20's individually taking stock of what they want from life, while Fantagraphics published the difficult-to-pin-down horror Nijigahara Holograph in 2014, although the latter seems to be out of print. Asano has a reputation for creating powerful, understated, character-driven comics, thematically linked by people struggling to make sense out of life through various lenses: social and self expectations, relationships, age; seeking meaning and place to anchor the being. As such, his stories can be unremittingly bleak. Here's a quick look at each of the new Asano titles due to be published next year.


A Girl on the Shore: Vertical are releasing this in one mammoth 444 page tome in January, and it will come shrink-wrapped due to its 18+ content rating. Originally serialised between 2009-13, it revolves around the relationship between teenagers, Koume Sato and Kosuke Isobe, who live in a sleepy seaside town. Koume is still emotionally recovering after being used and dumped by her crush, but decides to embark on a 'sex-only' relationship with Kosuke - this time with no feelings involved. The two quickly discover, however, that no strings attached sex can lead to unexpected complications, not just for themselves, but also the people surrounding them. I've seen this categogrised as 'erotica' in a few places, but my intimation is that it isn't; rather that it depicts sex and a sexual relationship graphically, which is different.


Goodnight Punpun: Goodnight Punpun is a different kettle of fish, and Asano's longest, and perhaps most acclaimed, work to date. It follows the titular 'Punpun' as he progresses from childhood to adulthood, all the while depicted as a poorly drawn cartoon bird: first a chick, then a slightly more feathered, and eventually a darker-coloured, fully-grown bird -even as all other characters are traditionally rendered people. Spread over 13 volumes, the story is split roughly into four arcs: Punpun's life in elementary, middle, and high school, and then as a young adult. Asano mixes his trademark realism with a heavy dose of surrealism: Punpun rarely speaks, can conjure a 'god,' and  is surrounded by a bizarre cast of characters. He comes from a broken home with an alcoholic mother and an abusive father, with the one 'good' thing he holds to being his crush on a girl named Aiko. Goodnight Punpun charts the comedies and increasing, intensely dark experiences of Punpun's life as he grows up in this environment, dealing with his family, friends, relationships and self, and the world in general.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Fragments of Horror sees Junji Ito make an uneven return to the genre [review]

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito, published by Viz

Eight years after the release of his last comic, Junji Ito makes a return to the uniquely skewy horror comics that brought him international acclaim and recognition. Fragments of Horror ('Ma No Kakera'), collects 8 new short stories that were originally serialised in Nemuki+ and Shikan magazine in Japan in 2013. In the afterword to this book, Ito muses on his time away from horror, on not being as strange as he once was, and getting the feel and instincts for the genre firing again. It's a rust that's apparent in this volume, which reads much like an author trying to work his way way back into the game.

Ito's horror is defined by two things: the pairing of the everyday with the creepily bizarre, and the ability to tease out verisimilitude-lending anxiety and human emotion out of almost any situation and circumstance. The success of his work relies on the cohesion of these two elements. In Fragments of Horror, the first is present, and the second more lacking. The weird facets and scenarios are in place -a woman obsessed with and having sex with a house, another strange bird-like woman feeding lost people in the woods human flesh, and so forth- but the lack of that emotional resonance and landing leads to a lack of impact and connection with the reader. It means the stories often come across as somewhat hollow, unbridged: as weird for the sake of weird, and while you get the sense Ito is trying, that disparity is exacerbated by an absence of belief previously bought about by emotional recognition and investment.

The Whispering Woman, and Tomio, Red Turtleneck are perhaps the most successful stories here, with the former again marrying the plausibly commonplace with a growing unease: an intensely autistic girl in need of around-the-clock special care finally finds somebody who can help her -to an unhealthy degree. But the ratcheting tautness of the carer woman's constant presence at the girl's shoulder (an abused woman finding worth in her job), and the physical toll of her efforts on her corpse-like, withering frame end in a denouement that isn't quite satisfactory, wasting what good has gone before. Tomio finds Ito use another of his favourite tropes, the cheating boyfriend, to bring literal application to the phrase 'keeping your head,' the one story in this volume that elicits a physical reaction as you reach out to touch your neck in reassurance: the young man involved attempts to hold his severed head in place in order to keep it connected to its nerves, but how long until he tires... Men in Ito's world are generally victims of their own inadequacies, while the women are simply more: unknowingly triumphant, freeingly monstrous, present, shallow, beyond assumed needs of characterisation.

Ito's ability to create visceral, visually unsettling images doesn't seem to have dampened, with mouth to mouth flesh feeding, a house blinking into unholy life with thousands of eyes, a dead man cocooned in his sleeping bag with a hallucinogenic mould, all on the menu.  He has a way of drawing pallid, strung-out people even in black and white, and while his figures look stiff, he's able to dramatise expressions -from tired eyes to rictus grins- to adequately serve conventional genre purpose. It doesn't help, however, that a few of the scenarios feel familiar, and when taken in comparison to Ito's older short stories, such as the superbly disturbing and lingering The Enigma of Amigara Fault, for example, it's difficult not to note how these offerings come up, well, short. That story is a benchmark in even Ito's outstanding oeuvre, building suspense and trepidation beautifully. The  initial curiosity that such a thing should, or could, exist in the first instance, and then the inevitablity of not being able to resist going into those holes tailored to fit you, and the slow, tangible tension of it. All coupled with the very real undercurrent of people looking for a place and meaning sometimes finding it in harmful ways. So the problem certainly isn't the more compact format, but that the stories in Fragments of Horror feel like blunt veneer; missing the bite and tightness of Ito's better work. Ito trying to do Ito, and not quite succeeding.

Webcomic alert: Fascist Friends by Erin Lux


I stumbled across a new webcomic by Erin Lux that I wanted to share; it's only recently started up, but has quickly grabbed my attention and looks very promising. The thing that instantly caught my eye was -surprisingly!- not the title but the lovely clean and dynamic art- simple, expressive lines and a really nice, easy use of pops of colour. Fascist Friends follows Finn a suave, style-savvy young man who hopes to be fashion major. There's one small obstacle though- Finn got confused when filling in/submitting the college applications and has mistakenly enrolled as a fascist major at a boarding school for young dictators instead. Which makes you wonder exactly what he put on his form that to be so warmly accepted by the latter! The premise is ripely set up for all manner of capers- the comic is still only a few installments in, but it looks like Finn will end up attending fascist school, no doubt whilst looking better than everyone else. Lux's comic is a light, breezy, fun read, and I'm looking forward to following it; Finn is already a fvaourite. It updates on Wednesdays and Sundays, and you can find the dedicated Tumblr for it here.

Robin Nishio's 'Wailed' puts contemporary cartooning in the frame [preview]


I met Robin Nishio briefly at the Toronto Comic Art Festival in May this year. I'd bought some original art from the excellent Hellen Jo, and was on the hunt for something to adequately package it in, so it could make the journey home unblemished. I left the piece at the Koyama Press table, and when I returned at closing time to collect it, it was securely ensconced inside a make-shift brown cardboard sleeve: 'Oh, Robin put that together from a box,' somebody told me. I stood chatting to various people as books and tables were cleared away, and Robin turned up, so I took the opportunity to thank him for his kindness and innovative wrapping. Most of the ensuing conversation was taken up with swapping airport security tales, and a wonderment at the litany of rules and checks and items that may or may not be allowed to pass, but at some point he mentioned he had a book due for release with Koyama in the winter. 'Is it a comic?' I asked, while a triple-denim clad Michael DeForge ignored me in the background. 'No,' he replied. 'It's a photography book.' At which point we were interrupted and the details of said book remained a mystery. Well, no longer.

Due for publication this November, Nishio's book, Wailed, is an 80-page black and white album collating portraits, people, moments, and spaces from the contemporary cartooning scene. Karaoke moments, catching naps in between events at festivals, fashion choices, work stations, food, bodyparts, and more, are all clicked and captured as a range of familiar faces flit past: Ginette Lapalme, Jillian Tamaki, Lala Albert, Patrick Kyle, Jane Mai, Angie Wang, Michael DeForge, Edie Fake, Hellen Jo, Ryan Sands, Christopher Butcher. There is nary a comic in sight, as Nisho looks to convey personalities, atmosphere, the quiet, behind and beyond the scenes, and Wailed is a stronger work for the specificity of that scope: a focus on the enviably talented, largely Canadian, alternative comics scene. There have been a few dotted efforts to collect and document some of the rich and varied history of comics and its people via photography -Jackie Estrada's Comic Book people volumes and Chris Anthony Diaz's consistently excellent work come to mind- and Wailed looks to be a distinctly modern yet lasting contribution to that oeuvre: 'Comics are often associated with the past, but this is a document of their future.' 

Calvin Wong and Hellen Jo

Christopher Butcher and Andrew Woodrow-Butcher

Michael DeForge